"We involve the departmental forum in problematic cases"
Harassment, AI chatbots, academic regulations and strategic action plans. There is a long list of matters dealt with by the departmental forum at the Department of Dentistry and Oral Health, and they are all important, because knowledge comes with responsibility according to both members and the head of department. There are elections for departmental forums at all departments in November.
About the departmental forum
- The by-laws state that the task of the departmental forums is to ensure idea generation, quality, transparency and legitimacy in all decisions on academic issues. The forum must also ensure the department's academic and social identity and cohesiveness.
- As a rule, the departmental forum meet twice per semester.
- The departmental forum consists of representatives of academic staff, technical/administrative staff, PhD students and pre-graduate students.
- The composition and number of members depend on the size of the department, although up to a maximum of 25 members.
- The head of department is the chair of the departmental forum. The vice-chair is chosen from among the academic staff of the forum. It is possible to apply for exemption for this.
- Student members are typically elected for a one-year period, while the other members are elected for a four-year period.
- This year, all staff groups are up for election to the departmental forum.
- Elections to the departmental forum will take place in connection with the university elections at AU on 13-16 November.
- Read more about the university elections on Aarhus University's staff page: https://medarbejdere.au.dk/strategi/universitetsvalg
In some places at the university, the departmental forum lives a quiet life, and in others the forum may even be overshadowed by its big sister the Academic Council, and the local liaison committees (LSU) at the departments. But not at the Department of Dentistry and Oral Health (IOOS). Here, the departmental forum is a high-priority body, with committed members dealing with everything from handling and learning from incidents of harassment and the new academic regulations to the use of AI chatbots and the department's strategic action plans.
"Our departmental forum acts as IOOS' very own advisory board. Our members represent every corner of the department – students from all our degree programmes, teaching staff, researchers and administrative staff. Diversity is crucial. Each member brings knowledge and experience to the table, which helps to nuance processes and validate decisions. It's worth its weight in gold," says Head of Department Siri Beier Jensen, who chairs the departmental forum at IOOS.
The departmental forum must be at the heart of it all
Siri Beier Jensen explains how the departmental forum has spent a long time reading the university's action plan for gender equality, diversity and inclusion and the department's strategic action plan for research and education, and that the students' input was given a separate page in the final status report to the Dean's Office.
"We also involve the departmental forum in difficult or problematic cases that affect the employees' work very directly – for example when we had to close the dental surgery assistant degree programme and the laboratory dental technician degree programme, or when we went from four-day to five-day weeks at the clinics on the degree programme in dentistry. We also strive to keep our members professionally and objectively abreast of what’s going on at the heart of the department. This means that the members can provide valid input from their own perspective," says Siri Beier Jensen.
Enette Berndt Knudsen, secretariat staff member, is one of the members who both provides and receives academic input in the departmental forum.
"We gain deep insight into all matters concerning the department. The IOOS budget is on the agenda every time, and guests are often invited to inform about their fields of expertise. For instance, the directors of studies reported on work on the new academic regulations, and the deputy head of department for research presented the department's research strategy. Members of the departmental forum influence the decision-making process and understand the background for the decisions that are made," explains Enette Berndt Knudsen, who is leaving her place as a long-standing member of the departmental forum to make room for new forces in the November elections.
Knowledge and insight come with responsibility
Even though the departmental forum has neither decision-making authority nor a 'final say', both Enette Berndt Knudsen and Siri Beier Jensen believe that the value of the forum is anything but insignificant.
"As a member, you and the staff group or degree programme you represent have direct access to the head of department. Your views are heard by the senior management, and it is my clear impression that they listen to us," says Enette Berndt Knudsen, who points out that the workload as a member of the departmental forum is not that strenuous and there are only a few meetings, although sometimes they can be very long.
"First and foremost, the departmental forum is an advisory body that ensures broad validation of important decisions and strategic direction for the department, and as the head of department, this provides me with important insight. But let there be no doubt that the flow of information must go both ways. The departmental forum is a strong network of ambassadors throughout the department who know the facts, understand what is going on at the department and understand the reasons behind management decisions. I also expect this knowledge and insight to be shared with colleagues and fellow students in the organisation,” Siri Beier Jensen stresses.
Elections to the departmental forums will be held locally at departments in connection with elections to other university bodies in the period from 13 to 16 November this year.